Note the location of your dry, sensitive skin
You can get dry, irritated, and sensitive skin from allergies, skin conditions, allergies, or a reaction to something in your environment, like detergents or fragrances. To figure out if you might have eczema, note where the irritation is located on your body, says Jeffrey S. Fromowitz, MD, a dermatologist and the managing partner and medical director at Dermatology of Boca, in Boca Raton, FL. “Eczema or atopic dermatitis tends to favor flexural areas—the fold of the arms, the fold of the wrist, the fold of the neck, and the folds behind the knee,” he says. “That’s where eczema tends to be most prominent and is a fairly clear indication that it’s not just an irritation from fabric or perfume, which tend to be spread across the body.” In the meantime, make sure you’re keeping your skin protected with this trick to moisturize when you’re in the shower.
Do you have an “itch that rashes?”
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Intense itching is another common symptom of eczema—but that could also be an allergic reaction or irritation from a new beauty product. So, how do you know the difference? “Again, it’s important to note the location of the intense itch like the severely dry and sensitive skin,” says Dr. Fromowitz. “The biggest indicator is whether the itch develops before or after the presence of a physical rash.” Eczema is known as the rash that itches, because you will likely get an intense itch that precedes the development of a rash. With contact dermatitis, or other forms of rashes, it is often the opposite: The rash appears before you get itchy.
Check the shape of your blisters or rash
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Developing blisters or peeling skin is uncomfortable and worrisome no matter what the cause. Both eczema in a severe form and dermatitis from poison oak or ivy can blister. (Protect yourself by brushing up on what poison ivy looks like.) The distinction is in the distribution and shape of the blisters, according to Dr. Fromowitz. If you notice these conditions on places like the surface of your arms or legs over a muscle, it’s likely caused by a reaction to a plant as opposed to blisters in the folds where eczema lives. “Also, the shape of the blisters will be different,” he says. Poison ivy rashes tend to be linear lines, while eczema blisters tend to be round and merge together.